Mumbai: Having faltered twice at the doorstep of the title contest previously when they hosted the World Cup, India would be eager to break the jinx this time around and regain cricket’s most coveted trophy when they commence their campaign in the mega-event against co-hosts Bangladesh at Dhaka on February 19.
In 1987, Kapil Dev failed to lead the country to their second successive crown as his team was swept off the perch by Mike Gatting-led England in the semi-final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
Mohd. Azharuddin also could not pilot his squad back on to the throne of One-day cricket nine years later when India co-hosted the World Cup along with Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as his team was knocked out by eventual champions Lanka in the semi-final at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
This time around Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men are aiming to disprove India’s jinx as host nation of the World Cup, aiming to make it third time lucky in the tournament that the country is co-hosting with Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Dhoni-led team has the iconic Sachin Tendulkar, who will be playing in his sixth World Cup that would place him at par with Pakistan great Javed Miandad, to look forward to -- besides a very talented and balanced team -- for ferrying back the World Cup to India after 28 years.
Seeded second in the tournament and ranked number one in Group ‘B’, India’s passage into the knock-out stage appears reasonably smooth if they play to their potential and are careful to avoid some pitfalls.
India’s opening tie against Bangladesh would itself be looked at with interest for it was the country’s eastern neighbours who inflicted a shock defeat on Rahul Dravid’s team four years ago in the West Indies, which eventually knocked them out of the World Cup in the first round.
“The past is past. I am more optimistic than you,” Dhoni said here last week referring to the lung-opener against Bangladesh.
India’s next opponents eight days later would be South Africa, against whom they have had mixed results in the recent past.
England and the West Indies loom as the major threats in the remaining matches but with the group also consisting of minnows Ireland (11th seed) and The Netherlands (13), Dhoni and his men would be fancying their chances of entering the last eight from where the do-or-die stage starts.
Tendulkar, who has created a staggering array of records in ODIs too apart from Tests, is going to be the lynch pin of the team’s strong batting line up.
The batting maestro is already the highest run-getter in the tournament history (1796 in 36 matches) and has said often that it is his dream to be part of a World Cup-winning squad.
Over the last year or so he has played very few ODIs, missing most of them either to take rest or recovering from injury, to be totally ready for cricket’s showpiece.
While Tendulkar would be the man marshaling the top order that has top shots Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, Dhoni is there to take control of the latter part of the innings in the company of big-shot players like Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina.
Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh seem to hold the aces in pace and spin bowling with the others working in tandem with this pair.
The team looks very strong in batting, has a varied bowling attack with lots of options in part-time slow bowlers like Yuvraj and Pathan, but may be handicapped by lack of enough swift-moving out-fielders and attacking fielders inside the ring.
Some of the players would also be returning following lay-offs due to injuries. The list includes Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir and they may take some time to get back into the groove.
While India have the advantage of playing all their league matches, barring the opener, in front of adoring home fans, it can also act as a double-edged sword especially if the players don’t do well.
Dhoni sounded confident that the squad members would handle the pressure of huge expectations of the fans and followers with aplomb.
“We take pressure as an added responsibility. We will stick to the basics and prepare well. We have the potential to do well in the tournament. For a change we will not be the underdogs,” Dhoni had said in Mumbai.
The Ranchi-born wicket-keeper batsman, however, refused to predict whether India will go on and repeat the feat performed by “Kapil’s” 1983 “Devils”.
“I never predict what will happen in cricket. We believe in each other and we believe in the process. We will take each game in the right frame of mind,” said Dhoni.
India’s World Cup team: MS Dhoni (Capt, WK), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin.
India’s preliminary group matches: v Bangladesh (Feb 19, Dhaka); v England (Feb 27, Bangalore); v Ireland (Mar 6, Bangalore); v Netherlands (Mar 9, Delhi); v South Africa (Mar 12, Nagpur); v West Indies (Mar 20, Chennai).